Award availability is required in order to book an award ticket; each airline controls capacity on their own flights and they decide when they release award seats on any given flight. Airlines usually go by the rule of “if we think we can’t sell the seat with cash, let’s release an award seat” – because why would they release a seat otherwise?
Award Availability Tiers
Some airlines have one “tier” of award seats – either it is available or it isn’t (saver-level) and other airlines may have multiple levels, including:
- saver awards
- bookable with miles from the operating airline and (generally) their partner airlines
- standard awards
- bookable only with miles from the operating airline at usually a higher, fixed cost
- dynamic awards
- bookable only with miles from the operating airline at a non-fixed, dynamic level (if the revenue price goes up, so does the mileage price)
Standard and Dynamic award availability can only be booked using miles from the operating airline.
You always want to be booking saver-level awards as these are the lowest-priced award seats and are generally available to all partner airlines of the operating airline.
Award Fare Classes
Airline tickets book into different fare classes – depending on what type of ticket you booked. For example, Economy “Y” Class is usually the highest, most expensive, most flexible type of Economy Class revenue ticket.
Regarding award availability, the general rule is that if a saver-level award seat is available, then that seat is available to all partners of the operating airline. Saver-Level award seats book into the following fare classes (there are a few exceptions):
- Star Alliance
- First Class = “O”
- Business Class = “I”
- Economy Class = “X”
- First Class = “Z” (not all airlines)
- Business Class = “U”
- Economy Class = “X” (not all airlines)
- Business Class = “O” (not all airlines)
- Economy Class = “X” (not all airlines)
Star Alliance airlines are generally well aligned in terms of fare classes whereas oneworld and SkyTeam airlines sometimes have different classes for saver-level award availability.
Saver-Level Award Availability Discrepancies
Generally speaking, if a Star Alliance First Class award seat in First Class (O) is available, then that same seat is available to all partner airlines. There are, however, some notable exceptions to this rule:
- some airlines release saver-level award availability only to their own members
- for example, SWISS First Class is only bookable by Miles & More SEN/HON members
- some airlines release saver-level award availability only to their own members and to select partner airlines
- for example, Singapore Airlines generally only releases saver-level award availability to their own members and a few other partner airlines (like Air Canada and Lufthansa), but other airlines wouldn’t see this award space
- some airlines randomly release saver-level award availability to partner airlines
- no general rule to this other than some partners of the operating airline might see the award space and others might not
- some airlines do not allow you to redeem their miles on some of their partner airline’s routes
- for example, while Alaska Airlines and British Airways are partner airlines, you cannot simply redeem your Alaska miles for a BA flight within Europe (it has to be attached to a BA flight to North America)
Booking and searching for an award ticket sometimes isn’t the easiest task in the world – between understanding where to search the award availability and then knowing what points to transfer to what airline and how to book, all of this can get complicated quickly.
The discrepancies that exist between airlines in regards to saver-level award availability do exist, but I wouldn’t say that it exists throughout the whole alliance/partnerships, but rather with a select number of airlines only. For example, when United Airlines releases a saver-level award seat, that seat is bookable by all Star Alliance partner airlines – but this isn’t the case with Lufthansa or Singapore Airlines, for example.
Always Confirm Award Availability
Before transferring points from a bank program to an airline in order to book, you always want to double check award availability. For example, if you found award availability on Lufthansa Miles & More, confirm this with United Airlines and Air Canada before transferring miles to one of those programs to book. If you are booking with some other program, always confirm with that program that you can see the award space and it is bookable before transferring in points.
You cannot transfer points back from an airline to a bank program after you make the transfer.
Do note that even if you find award availability and it is there, there is always a chance that someone is booking that exact flight you want – and they could grab that seat before you are able to complete the booking (it does take time to transfer points and go through the entire booking process).
All in All
The miles and points world can be complicated, especially if you are just starting out and are new to miles and points. After some time, everyone learns the rules and exceptions, and how things “work” when booking an award flight. It is especially important to always have a backup plan in case something doesn’t work out for you – whether that’s because someone books your seat first or the airline pulls the seat. Discrepancies do exist between airlines on a number of levels – and this is just one of them and something we have to work with and understand if we are to be successful at booking award tickets.